Performance-Based Scholarships May Improve Academic Progress of College Students

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MDRCA new policy brief states that performance-based scholarships – financial aid incentives allotted to students based upon one’s ability to achieve certain academic benchmarks – may serve as a catalyst for both improved grades and greater odds of finishing college, especially for low-income students.

The brief, Performance-Based Scholarships: Emerging Findings from a National Demonstration issued by the Manpower Demonstration Research Center (MDRC) was published earlier this month. The policy brief examines the effects of performance-based scholarships on students in select colleges in, among other states, New York, California and Florida, with the authors saying that their findings seem to indicate a slight, yet positive impact on the academic progress of students enrolled in such financial assistance programs.

In 2009, an MDRC report on Louisiana’s Opening Doors program exhibited improved grades, higher credit accumulation levels and greater likelihoods of retention for several college students that were enrolled in the performance-based scholarship program. A year earlier, MDRC began a six-state study, the Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration, to gauge the overall effectiveness of scholarship programs contingent upon ongoing student academic progress.

Although the authors say that the preliminary findings for the six states surveyed for the brief were not as pronounced as the Louisiana data, they still noted that performance-based scholarship programs resulted in several statistically-significant influences for students, including an increase in credits earned and an increase in students’ abilities to meet end-of-term benchmarks during program terms.

MDRC research on the impact of performance-based scholarships will continue until December 2014. The organization plans on releasing several studies, including a full implementation report, once the project officially concludes.

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